Why the Bundy Standoff Isn’t About Liberty
By Jason Cox
Revolution is in the air. Trained soldiers are marching down to confiscate private property, and armed citizens are forming militias to fight back against the forces of tyranny. While this is the image supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy wish to project in his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, I’m sorry to say that Bunkerville is no Bunker Hill.
The Nevada standoff goes back to 1993, when Cliven Bundy refused to pay the Bureau of Land Management for the use of federal land near the town of Bunkerville to allow his cattle to graze. Fast forward through 20 years of battle in the courts, and Bundy now owes over a million dollars to the federal government.
This month, the Bureau of Land Management, under court order, sent in agents to confiscate any of Bundy’s cattle that were still grazing on federal lands. Supporters of Bundy, armed with guns and numbering over a thousand, filled the ranch, and refused the agents entry. The Feds responded in turn and surrounded the ranch, resulting in a tense standoff, which has recently ended with a pullback by the government.
Conservative commentators have been quick to jump to his defense. After all, what can be worse than the federal government picking on a lone rancher, with an environmental protection issue at the center of it no less?
This perspective is misguided, however. As correctly noted by senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies Walter Olson, Cliven Bundy has no right to utilize public land for his own endeavors. While it is without doubt questionable why the federal government owns as large an amount of land as it does, as well as why the Bureau of Land Management needs a militarized force to carry out its duties, we should not be encouraging a rancher to effectively steal someone else’s property. If the land was privately held, Bundy would have to pay the required fees to utilize it. If he owned the land, he’d have to pay for its maintenance.
The federal government has indeed long stepped over the boundaries of what its founders intended, but this does not mean anyone who stands against it is a hero. Cliven Bundy’s story does not echo those of the militia at Lexington and Concord, but instead simply of a free rider; someone complaining about being kicked off a ride he didn’t pay for.